Canada’s restaurant industry is bracing for the biggest jump in the country’s alcohol excise duty in more than 40 years, spurring warnings the tax hike could force some bars and restaurants out of business.
J&J Can’t Use Bankruptcy to End Cancer Suits Over Baby Powder, Court Says
(Bloomberg) — Johnson & Johnson can’t use bankruptcy to resolve more than 40,000 US cancer lawsuits over its now-withdrawn baby powder, a federal appeals court ruled.
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The three-judge panel in Philadelphia sided with cancer victims, who argued J&J wrongly put its specially created unit, LTL Management, under court protection to block juries around the country from hearing the lawsuits and handing out damage awards.
The ruling means J&J will most likely need to defend itself against claims that tainted talc in its baby powder causes cancer. The company has lost a number of such cases — including one that was appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court, before J&J was forced to pay more than $2 billion to one group of victims.
Shares of J&J dropped as much as 7.2% in New York on Monday before closing down 3.7%. J&J removed its iconic talc-based baby powder from the US market in 2020 and is slated to have it off markets across the globe by the end of this year.
The judges found only companies directly threatened with financial troubles can use bankruptcy. Since J&J itself never claimed to be in immediate danger, it can’t benefit from Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code by putting a unit under court protection, the judges found.
“Good intentions — such as to protect the J&J brand or comprehensively resolve litigation — do not suffice alone,” to file for bankruptcy, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote. “What counts to access the Bankruptcy Code’s safe harbor is to meet its intended purposes. Only a putative debtor in financial distress can do so. LTL was not. Thus we dismiss its petition.”
The ruling may drive a settlement, according to Holly Froum, a litigation analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence. A settlement of the more-than 40,000 suits could total $5 billion, according to Froum, who in a note Monday pegged the chances of a deal at 70%.
J&J plans to challenge the ruling. The bankruptcy was filed in good faith to “equitably resolve” talc claims, it said in a statement. If the company’s appeals aren’t successful, plaintiffs’ lawyers predicted Monday J&J could face a wave of talc trials starting this summer.
J&J can now ask that all judges on the Philadelphia appeals court hear their appeal of the three-judge panel’s decision. If that’s denied, the company has the right to ask the US Supreme Court to hear its arguments that the Chapter 11 case should be allowed to proceed.
“The doors to the courthouse, which had been slammed shut by J&J’s cynical legal strategy, are once again open,” said Leigh O’Dell, a lawyer representing thousands of talc users whose claims have been consolidated in New Jersey for pre-trial information exchanges. Plaintiff lawyers will be scrambling to get talc suits back on trial dockets across the US in the wake of the appeals court’s ruling, O’Dell said.
A J&J lawyer Monday indicated the company was preparing for more talc litigation in a trial against consumer-products maker Colgate-Palmolive Co. Allison Brown, one of Colgate’s attorneys who has represented J&J in past talc cases, asked a California judge to put on hold Francis Coit’s case against multiple defendants over injuries allegedly tied to talc-based powders.
“Given plaintiff’s allegations in the complaint about Johnson’s Baby Powder, and that if they are permitted to do so, they will seek to bring J&J into the complaint, Colgate would request a continuance, Your Honor, to see what happens with the J&J bankruptcy and if J&J truly will need to come into this case to defend itself against the allegations” against its baby powder, Brown told Judge Richard Sebolt, according to a copy of a court transcript.
The bankruptcy case had put all talc litigation on hold while the appellate court decided whether the so-called Texas-Two Step technique J&J relied on for its talc bankruptcy was flawed.
After several talc litigation losses, J&J turned to the maneuver, which is designed to block the cases from trial and force claimants to negotiate in the Chapter 11 case of LTL.
In 2021, the health-care giant sought to funnel the suits into what it acknowledged was a “shell company” without any operations. That unit, LTL, immediately filed for bankruptcy to block the litigation while trying to negotiate settlements.
J&J has long argued that there is no good scientific evidence linking its baby powder to cancer. The company argued LTL’s case was the only way of managing talc litigation costs and ensuring victims get a fair payment.
US Bankruptcy Judge Michael Kaplan, who is based in Trenton, New Jersey — not far from J&J’s headquarters in New Brunswick — ruled last year that LTL’s bankruptcy was legitimate and a better solution than continuing to have juries weigh claims nationwide. Cancer claimants appealed Kaplan’s decision.
A handful of companies, including Koch Industries’ Georgia-Pacific unit, used the strategy before J&J. Those cases remain in bankruptcy court in North Carolina. The Philadelphia court’s decision will not have any direct impact on the North Carolina cases.
Last year, a bankruptcy judge in Indianapolis refused to halt about 230,000 lawsuits against 3M Co. even though its subsidiary, Aearo Technologies, had filed a legitimate Chapter 11 case. 3M has appealed that decision.
LTL’s bankruptcy was the first Texas Two-Step to reach an appeals court. After victim groups challenged Kaplan’s ruling, the appeals court in Philadelphia agreed to expedite the case.
J&J’s strategy has been condemned by some legal scholars and members of Congress because the company received a major benefit of Chapter 11 rules — a halt to lawsuits — without filing for bankruptcy, where it would be subject to court oversight of its spending and other practices.
The handful of the companies that have used the strategy since it emerged in 2017 have faced suits targeting their use of asbestos, a toxic industrial material. The cases take advantage of special rules set up by Congress for companies threatened with insolvency by such litigation.
There have been ongoing talks aimed at settling the talc cases filed in both state and federal courts. Prior to J&J putting its unit into bankruptcy in 2021, the company offered to resolve the suits as much as $5 billion, according to Monday’s decision.
In Chapter 11 filings, J&J’s lawyers acknowledged the LTL subsidiary had a value of more than $61 billion and those funds could be tapped to satisfy talc liabilities, if necessary. Analysts, however, aren’t predicting the company will pay out anything near that figure to settle the cases.
The J&J bankruptcy case is LTL Management LLC, 21-30589, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of New Jersey (Trenton).
(Updates with $5 billion settlement offer in 24th paragraph)
Windsor-Essex brewers lament impact of looming 6.3% alcohol tax
Chapter Two Brewing Company in Windsor is celebrating a milestone this weekend.
“Five years! We’re pretty pumped that we got this far and we’re still going strong,” said brewery co-owner and general manager, Cheryl Watson. “It’s good news, I mean, we’ve gone through a lot.”
From the impact of lockdowns during the pandemic to recent inflationary pressures and wage increases, Watson notes the cost of doing business has been steep.
And that anniversary celebration will clouded by a looming alcohol excise tax increase on all alcohol producers.
“I think everything is just, it’s been unpredictable for suppliers and buyers alike,” Watson said. “We have to look at and figure out what part of it you’re going to cover and what part of it you’re going to ask your customer to cover.”
That question will get harder on April 1 when the 6.3 per cent federal excise tax goes into effect on beer, wine and spirits producers.
Taxes already make up 50 per cent of the cost of beer, 65 per cent of the cost of wine and 75 per cent spirits, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“The screws are tightening and we don’t have as many places to play anymore,” said Watson.
The increase on the table is triple the usual jump — a number tied directly to inflation — and has alcohol manufacturers wondering who is going to pick up the tab.
“You’re going to see probably a six to 10 per cent increase on the price of your beer,” said Shane Meloche, the owner of Frank Brewing Company in Windsor. He’s weathered the storm that is the past few years in the hospitality industry and doesn’t want to raise prices but worries this time, he may have no choice.
“We’re here to make money. We’ve got 20 to 30 people that work here. We need to stay in business,” Meloche said. “We want to keep everybody employed. So the only way to do that is to pass along that price to the consumer.”
Restaurants who sell alcohol will also feel the effects. A recent Restaurants Canada survey found about half of Canadian restaurants are operating just at or below profitability levels, noting the tax increase will cost Canada’s food-service industry about $750 million a year.
“Their profit margins are very slim. And then when you have a six per cent increase, it’s slimmer,” said Paul Boots, who along with business partner John Conlon launched Suds Runner just a few months back.
It’s a licensed manufacturing representative retailer for nine different Breweries in Ontario where customers can go online and order flights of beer from them that you can’t get at the LCBO or Beer Store — and they bring it to your door.
They started the venture to support local breweries and give their less popular brews more exposure for customers who can’t make it out to craft breweries as often as they’d like.
They hope the increase doesn’t crush their suppliers, customers, or them.
“It’s important, I think, for people to understand that if the price is going up a little bit, it’s not because they’re making more money,” said Conlon.
“They’re just trying to work, trying to make it work.”
Shares in Deutsche Bank drop as global banking worries persist – Al Jazeera English
Tumbling stocks dragged down other major banks across Europe, fuelling fears about a banking sector crisis.
Shares in Deutsche Bank have fallen sharply, dragging down other major European banks and reigniting fears about a widening banking sector crisis.
Germany’s biggest lender dropped more than 14 percent on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange in Friday morning trading before clawing back ground in the afternoon to trade 9.5 percent lower, at 8.43 euros ($9.07) a share.
Tumbling bank stocks dragged down markets across Europe on Friday with Germany’s Commerzbank down 7.5 percent, France’s Societe Generale off 5.9 percent and Austria’s Raiffaisen down 5.9 percent.
Deutsche Bank is one of 30 banks considered globally significant financial institutions, so international rules require it to hold higher levels of capital reserves because its failure could cause widespread losses.
The long-troubled bank has become the focus of investor concerns after the collapse of three regional US lenders and the Swiss government-brokered takeover of Credit Suisse by rival UBS triggered market turmoil this month.
The cost of insuring the bank’s debt against a risk of defaulting, known as credit default swaps, has surged as investors fret about the banking sector’s health.
Rising costs on insuring debt were a prelude to Credit Suisse‘s rescue by UBS. That hastily arranged takeover on Sunday and jitters about Credit Suisse’s long-running troubles led its shares to tank and customers to pull out their money.
Asked whether Deutsche Bank could be the next Credit Suisse, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, “There is no reason to be concerned.”
Scholz expressed confidence in Deutsche Bank, saying it had “modernised and organised the way it works. It’s a very profitable bank.”
Speaking in Brussels after a summit of EU leaders, he also said the European banking system was “stable” with strict rules and regulations.
Deutsche Bank said on Friday that it would redeem $1.5bn in tier 2 bonds early. Such a move is normally aimed at boosting confidence in a bank although its shares plunged regardless.
The bank was hit by a string of problems linked to its attempts before the 2008 global financial crisis to compete with Wall Street investment banking giants.
But it launched a major restructuring, which involved thousands of job cuts and a greater focus on Europe, and has returned to financial health. Last year, it booked its highest annual profit since 2007.
European officials said banks in the European Union’s regulatory system, which does not include Credit Suisse, are resilient and have no direct exposure to the failed California-based Silicon Valley Bank and little to Credit Suisse.
Efforts to strengthen banking regulation in recent years “puts us all in a position to say that European banking supervision and the financial system are robust and stable and that we have resilient capitalisation of European banks”, Scholz said.
European leaders, who played down any risk of a possible banking crisis at their summit on Friday, said the financial system is in good shape because they require broad adherence to tougher requirements to keep ready cash on hand to cover deposits.
International negotiators agreed to those rules after the 2008 financial crisis, triggered by the failure of US investment bank Lehman Brothers. US regulators exempted midsized banks, including Silicon Valley Bank, from those safeguards.
Restaurants and bars across Canada brace for biggest alcohol tax jump in 40 years
Bar and eatery operators across Canada have endured lockdowns, labour shortages, supply chain mayhem and soaring costs for everything from payroll to cooking oil. Rising inflation has also softened demand as some consumers stay home to save money.
“Many of us haven’t recovered from the pandemic and now they want to raise this tax,” she said. “It’s hard to get blood out of a turnip. We’ll see more restaurant closures if this goes ahead.”
The federal beverage alcohol duty is set to increase 6.3 per cent on April 1.
While the duty is separate from provincial liquor board fees and sales taxes, it ultimately filters down to higher prices for consumers, said CJ Helie, the president of Beer Canada.
“It’s imposed at the point of production and paid by the manufacturer, which means it’s built into the price of the product and magnified as it goes through the supply chain from the distributor to the retailer,” he said.
The automatic annual tax increase is a long-standing irritant for the beverage industry, but was “digestible” when inflation was around two per cent, Helie said.
But this year’s adjustment is more than triple the usual increase and should be reconsidered given the state of the industry, he said.
Some brewers may try to absorb the higher cost by delaying investment plans like new hiring but he said there’s only so much they can do before passing the tax hike along.
“They’ll try to recoup what they can through the wholesale price but it could impact demand and end up costing them in lower sales volumes anyway,” Helie said.
Alcohol excise duty rates are adjusted by law on an annual basis to account for inflation, Adrienne Vaupshas, press secretary of Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, said in an email.
The increase next month works out to less than a penny on a can of beer, she added.
But industry group Restaurants Canada said it will cost Canada’s food-service industry about $750 million a year, with the average casual dining restaurant expected to pay an extra $30,000 towards alcohol.
At the retail level, the impact may be more subtle. Though added on top of other price increases, consumers may notice higher prices.
The Liquor Control Board of Ontario said customers may experience a price increase on select products by the end of April if manufacturers pass along the federal excise tax increase.
A spokeswoman for the Nova Scotia Liquor Corp. said beverage alcohol prices are increasing by just over three per cent overall next month.
But these increases are due to a number of factors, including higher excise taxes and the rising cost of raw goods such as bottles, cans, barley, and labels, NSLC spokeswoman Allison Himmelman said in an email.
In British Columbia, a spokesperson for the BC Liquor Distribution Branch said it’s not possible to confirm what level of price increase consumers may or may not see.
“Each liquor supplier will decide whether or not to increase its wholesale price to account for the increase it must pay in excise duty,” Robin Fraser said in an email.
“Then retailers will make the decision on whether to adjust the prices for consumers for those products,” Fraser said. “It is up to each retailer to determine if, and by how much, to raise its prices.”
Alcohol beverage prices rose 5.7 per cent in February compared with a year before, according to Statistics Canada.
While that’s only slightly higher than the overall inflation rate of 5.2 per cent last month, the tax hike in April along with other increases could see the alcohol inflation rate rise faster than general inflation later this spring.
“Our industry is struggling and we can’t absorb more increases,” said Olivier Bourbeau, vice-president of federal affairs with Restaurants Canada. “Restaurant margins are always thin but right now they’re around two to three per cent.”
This is in part because restaurants are absorbing some of the higher costs due to inflation, Bourbeau said.
Indeed, while grocery prices recorded a 10.6 per cent year-over-year increase in February, restaurant food prices only rose 7.7 per cent, Statistics Canada figures show.
Also, alcohol beverages purchased from stores rose 6.0 per cent in February, while alcoholic beverages served in licensed establishments increased only 4.3 per cent, the agency said.
“Restaurants can’t absorb any more price increases,” Bourbeau said. “But if they pass those costs to customers it could hurt their business.”
“At the end of the day, consumers will only pay so much before they start to cut back.”
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